I had a troubling experience last year. I’m not sure if you would consider it a trauma, but I can’t seem to let it go and I haven’t been feeling like myself since it happened. Someone told me about EMDR and that it can be helpful in situations like these. However, I don’t really understand what EMDR is or how it works. Can you help explain? Thanks.
Getting Back To Me
Dear Getting Back To Me,
I’m so glad you’ve reached out with your questions about EMDR! You are one step closer to finding healing and getting back to your old self again. Since you mention some uncertainty about whether or not you’ve experienced trauma, I’d like to start off by explaining what constitutes trauma/a traumatic experience, and then I’ll share about EMDR.
How do I know if I’ve experienced trauma?
When most people define the word “trauma” we often assume an experience must be something newsworthy or inherently catastrophic in order to qualify as a “traumatic event”. However at its core, trauma can be ANY experience that is paired with intense distress (physical or emotional). This can be a moment in time, a single event, or a series of events in our lives that are interpreted by our brains as traumatic.
Trauma can be ANY experience that is paired with intense distress (physical or emotional).
Trauma memories are wired in the brain differently than other memories. When a memory is linked in intense emotion, it is also linked to survival. This link is designed to be able to recognize danger, and is therefore stronger than other wiring in our neural connections. Our brains also have wiring to let us know when our perception of danger is inaccurate. These signals that we’ve got it wrong come in the form of Post Traumatic Stress disorder, depression, anxiety, and distorted negative beliefs systems.
Although these trauma wirings can be strong, EMDR can loosen these connections and allow the memory to be workable. When a memory is “workable,” it means it can be influenced by our adult perspective of the world and change how it affects us.
What is EMDR?
The short answer is, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a therapeutic technique used to treat distressing symptoms experienced as a result of a traumatic event. I like to say, it’s an evidenced-based therapeutic practice with a little bit of magic!
EMDR was first discovered in 1987 by Francine Shapiro and primarily used for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After empirical studies began in 1989, the protocol evolved to treat a variety of symptoms, diagnoses and negative belief patterns associated with memories of traumatic experiences.
How does EMDR work?
The process of EMDR is a structured protocol involving specific guidelines for cognitive talk therapy combined with bilateral stimulation (BLS). Bilateral stimulation is anything that stimulates the senses in your body from one side of your body to the other, back and forth. For example, walking is a BLS, rocking side to side is a BLS, hearing tones in each ear back and forth is a BLS, watching an object move from left to right and right to left with your eyes is a BLS.
During EMDR processing, the distress of traumatic memories is eliminated and the negative beliefs attached to them are reprocessed with healthier, positive beliefs in their place.
EMDR therapists can use various different kinds of bilateral stimulation, but the preferred method is eye movement. Therapists will pass a wand back and forth a few feet in front of you in order to stimulate the side to side eye movement. This is not painful in anyway and can actually be quite relaxing! During EMDR processing, the distress of traumatic memories is eliminated and the negative beliefs attached to them are reprocessed with healthier, positive beliefs in their place.
When a memory is later recalled, the content of the memory has not been changed, but rather the emotional or physical distress and negative beliefs associated with the memory are no longer present. That’s the part that feels like magic!
How long will it take to feel better?
EMDR is an 8-phase treatment that encompasses history taking, building of positive resources, processing of memories (multiple phases) and an evaluation/assessment of your progress in treatment. The effectiveness of EMDR is incredible!
Once processing begins, clients will often report starting to feel better after just one session. But EMDR is not a one-session cure all by any means. It typically takes between 6-14 sessions to feel relieved of traumatic symptoms, especially when several memories need to be worked on. Post treatment follow up studies have shown the effects of treatment to be long-lasting.
EMDR therapy has shown to be more effective than placebo treatments, and to treatments not specifically designed for PTSD. EMDR has outperformed active listening, cognitive, psychodynamic, or behavioral therapy and relaxation training with biofeedback. You can find studies that compare EMDR to other treatments here.
Can any Therapist use EMDR with their clients?
Unfortunately, no. EMDR must be practiced by a licensed clinician who has completed additional trainings specifically for EMDR and participated in consultation hours with a seasoned EMDR practitioner.
Where can I find more information on EMDR?
The EMDR Institute Inc. is a great resource for both laypeople and clinicians. You can find information on the research and history of EMDR as well as other FAQ here.
If you are interested in finding out more in person, or meeting for a consultation to determine if you’d be a good candidate for EMDR, contact Wellspace today and our psychotherapist, Kim Strong will be more than happy to meet with you! You can easily book a consultation with her online.